Meeting the Need: Partners in a Pandemic

by Senator Toni G. Atkins, President pro Tempore of the California Senate (District 39)

When I was a little girl growing up in rural Virginia, I remember my mom quietly directing my siblings and I to make sure my dad had the last or extra egg because he worked in construction and needed the energy the food provided him. I remember eating at the church breakfast club in our neighborhood; free and reduced-cost lunch at school; the government cheese and pantry staples.

To this day, I still think of pancakes for dinner as a treat – and when I was young, my twin sister and I having no idea that this was a way to stretch our family food budget and fill hungry bellies.

Like so many families, ours experienced the gnawing reality of food insecurity, despite my parents working long hours as a miner and seamstress. It was hard for them to accept help, but it helped us survive.

Just as the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank helped families struggling with food insecurity make it through the pandemic. Never before had the need been so high, with food distribution increasing by a staggering 54 percent countywide. From March 2020 to March of 2021, this organization served the equivalent of 48 million meals. Their support of vulnerable San Diegans during COVID was nothing short of heroic, which is why I was proud to select the Food Bank as my 2021 Nonprofit of the Year.

The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank has been a fundamental part of our region’s critical care services, ensuring there was food on the table for our neighbors, especially during the pandemic, when jobs were lost or hours reduced, and many were left suddenly in need.

The Food Bank’s dedicated staff, volunteers and partners immediately began reimagining how to meet the crushing demand of food insecurity.

The Food Bank converted existing pantries into Super Pantries with drive-thru and socially distanced walk-up service increasing both safety precautions and ensuring that those who needed to access these services could do so with dignity. The Food Bank also provided much-needed supplies of diapers and hygiene items, and the team worked longer hours to meet the need. Quite literally, they saved lives.

While the Food Bank was working to make sure pantries and tables were filled, my colleagues and I were working to ensure they, along with other organizations providing food assistance, had the resources they needed to meet the demand. In the 2020-2021 state budget, a total of $225 million, which included federal funds, was allocated for food bank distribution programs as well as diaper banks.

The need to help California families continues, which is why this year’s budget includes expanded nutrition benefits, which now will include people who previously had been excluded due to their immigration status. 

Food insecurity is a struggle impacting far too many Californians, and as someone who lived through it myself, I’m committed to helping provide support for struggling families, and applaud organizations like the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, which is making a critical difference in the lives of so many San Diegans.

Congratulations, Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, on being the 39th Senate District’s Nonprofit of the Year, and thank you for all you have done and continue to do for our region.

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Information about the author: Toni G. Atkins is President pro Tempore of the California Senate. Having previously served as Speaker of the California Assembly, she began her tenure in the Senate in 2016. As Senator for District 39, she represents the cities of San Diego, Coronado, Del Mar and Solana Beach. Website of President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins: www.senate.ca.gov/Atkins